One for the money, two for the go
Mini’s cheapest, weakest model still retains the brand's fun-to-drive vibe
Mini recently launched its most powerful car to date, the Clubman JCW, ,which recalls the plucky, giant-killing Minis that won three Monte Carlo rallies back in the 1960s.
Packing 225kW of 2l turbo power, the car is able to storm autobahns at 250km/h and take corners like a golf ball sweeping through a Kreepy Krauly hose. Like its Monte Carlo-winning forebears, it is the lunatic-fringe car for speed chasers in the spirit of adventure and derring-do, and it's an apt way to celebrate Mini's 60th anniversary year.
But it's the much more humble Mini One that more faithfully channels the intent of the original car designed by Alec Issigonis back in 1959. The first-generation Mini was essentially the British Beetle, a simple and affordable people's car although its front-engine, front-wheel drive packaging was the exact opposite of the German icon. A radical concept at the time, the transverse engine and front-wheel drive made the passenger compartment very roomy and it became the standard layout for small cars from then on.
The One is the entry derivative of the Mini three-door range, and behind its doe-eyed headlamps is a 75kW 1.5l turbo three-cylinder engine — a detuned version of the 100kW unit used in the next-up-in-the-range Mini Cooper.
Though it lacks some of the high-end toys of pricier Minis, the One stacks all the essentials into a package that costs R313,000 in six-speed manual form and R334,000 as a seven-speed automatic.
This includes manual aircon instead of automatic climate control, and you'll have to pay extra for items like a multifunction sports steering wheel, sports seats, navigation and cruise control. Optional too are those cool Union Jack LED tail lights introduced as part of last year’s model range upgrade.
But the One isn't poverty spec either and has the requisite push-button comforts, plus a Bluetooth and USB capable infotainment system housed in a giant round infotainment interface that is surrounded by a lighting “mood” ring that changes colour.
This infotainment screen isn’t touch operated as per the modern trend; instead you use a mouse-style iDrive knob located between the front seats, which I actually prefer because it feels more natural with its distinctive clicks and doesn’t leave unsightly smudges on the screen.
The cabin is a premium-feeling affair with quality materials and soft touchpoints, with chrome-ringed ventilation controls and metal toggle switches providing some appealing automotive jewellery.
The modern Mini isn’t as well packaged as its much smaller 60-year-old progenitor in terms of space utilisation. With the dashboard extending deep into the cabin area, there’s space for four people in this new Mini at a push, and rear passengers will have their knees pressed up against the front seats.
Getting in and out of the back seats is aided by a one-touch seat-fold system, but this three-door Mini is distinctly aimed at child-free households. For 10 grand more you can buy the more family-friendly five-door version.
The boot’s compact and there’s no spare wheel, only a puncture repair kit, but with the back seats flipped down there’s a decent amount of luggage space.
Many buyers might skim right past the Mini One in a price list when they see the 75kW engine output, but the power’s not nearly as underwhelming as it looks, and doesn’t translate into wheezy performance. The little car scoots through the suburbs with a satisfyingly energetic nature and it’s content on the open road. A 195km/h top speed is a good clue to its cruising credentials.
The auto transmission has a sport mode to light up the performance a bit by holding onto lower gears longer, and though it’s no performance car, overall it's an accessible power delivery that doesn't cause frustration. My gripe here is that the fuel consumption was a higher-than-expected 7.4l/100km.
This baseline model in the line up also has Mini-typical agility with a more comfortable ride than its more powerful stablemates, thanks to its higher-profile and more pothole-friendly 15-inch tyres.
That makes it ride the bumps without feeling particularly jittery, but it still has the taut suspension and direct steering that is the heart of the Mini driving experience. It’s a nimble little number that revels in corners and changes direction like a startled fish.
It’s all packaged in that playful, happy-go-lucky styling that has wooed playful, happy-go-lucky customers for six decades.
Thomas Sycha, Mini’s head of exterior design, says a Mini radiates a sympathetic expression and the experience is charged with optimism. “When you see your Mini again in the morning, you instantly sense that it’s probably going to be a good day.”
I reckon that sums it up. I was pleasantly surprised by this car, which channels the back-to-basics spirit of the original Mini. It may be the brand’s most humble model but it retains Mini’s charisma and fun-to-drive nature at a price point that might lure buyers from top-spec Ford Fiestas and VW Polos.
Type: Three-cylinder petrol
Type: Seven-speed dual clutch automatic
Type: Front-wheel drive
Top speed: 195km/h
0-100km/h: 10.1 seconds
Fuel Consumption: 5.3l/100km (claimed); 7.4l / 100km (as tested)
Aircon, electric windows, electric mirrors, infotainment system with Bluetooth, four-speaker audio system, trip computer, cloth seats, remote central locking, six airbags, stability control, ABS brakes, active pedestrian protection, automatic headlamps, automatic wipers, 175/65 R15 tyres
Warranty: Two years/unlimited km
Maintenance plan: Three years/75,000km
Lease*:R7,191 per month
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
Mini One 3 door auto
Value for money, agility
A bit thirsty
A back-to-basics Mini that retains the brand’s charm and driver appeal
****Value For Money
Ford Fiesta 1.0 T Titanium auto, 74kW/170Nm — R329,700
Peugeot 208 1.2T GT Line auto, 81kW/205Nm — R309,900
VW Polo hatch 1.0 TSi Highline auto, 85kW/200Nm — R322,900